By Brian Hicks - The Post and Courier
It sounds pretty simple: raise the H.L. Hunley a few feet off the ground, tilt it upright and set it down.
But it’s a little more complicated than that.
This week scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center will begin work on a Hunley rotation plan that is more than a year in the making – a complex engineering procedure designed to move the fragile iron sub without damaging it.
Start to finish, it should take a little more than a week.
When the work is done, archaeologists will be able to examine areas of the sub’s hull hidden for more than a decade by its original lifting straps.
And that could reveal clues as to why the Hunley sank in 1864 just after it became the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in battle.
“We will see what no one has seen since the crew did on the night it disappeared,” said Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the state Hunley Commission. “You’ll be able to see the Hunley unobstructed.
It’ll be a sight to behold.”
When the Hunley was raised from the Atlantic in August 2000, it was brought up at a 45-degree angle – which is how it was found lying 5 feet beneath the ocean floor.
Scientists wanted to keep it at that attitude to keep from shifting the placement of artifacts inside the sub, and because no one knew how weak the iron hull was after more than a century in saltwater.
Since then, the sub has been excavated and had several hull plates, keel blocks and other pieces removed. It has changed the structural integrity of the sub, and made this job more complex.
“There is no recipe for rotating Civil War submarines,” said Paul Mardikian, senior conservator on the project. “This is just as complicated, or maybe even more complicated than raising it from the ocean floor.”
Of course, there is a recipe now – one that Hunley scientists and Clemson University professors have worked on for years. Scientists developed a 3-D model of the sub, studied weight distribution and stress factors.
They looked at several ways to do it, and computer modeling showed that not all of them worked.